Zettelkasten Forum

About note writing behavior

I know there are many discussions over here about Zettel titles and so on.
This is not for that, rather than a simple habit-related question when jotting down fleeting notes or the most friction-less way to write your thoughts.

David Delgado Vendrell

About note writing behavior
  1. What's your habit when jotting down a single note in a digital system? (known: context dependency)4 votes
    1. 1. Write directly on the main bullet point
    2. 2. Same as 1), but post-editing and/or summarizing, if necessary
    3. 3. Write on indented bullet point (title, later)
    4. 4. Others (comment in the thread)


  • Note size has an impact on that topic, too.

    In this discussion, I am more interested in getting feedback from the "first-step" habit when jotting down your thoughts rather than the different post-edition possibilities.

    Some cases:

    1. Action-oriented note. If it is a deliberate one, I can understand the use of ${name} as the prefix for the title, considering your mind knows that note needs for multi-level writing (title, main body, additional note..., etc...).

    2. Fleeting note. Not deliberate, fresh jot down. You start writing, and somehow you add an end period. There are several reasons for that period (end of sentence, end of summary, end of paragraph....). What's your next step, usually? There are also friction reasons to force us to use one way or another.

    David Delgado Vendrell

  • I normally use @Will's Keyboard Maestro macro for starting up a zettel - write down a functional title (might change later) and one or two sentences. I come back to flush out the zettel later - usually a few hours or days later, but could be longer. Creating the zettel is my way of capturing a thought that I want to develop into a zettel.

  • I voted for number 4 in the poll. I think the blog post "When should you start a new note?" (2016) by @ctietze, and its decision tree, is a great answer to this issue. It is required reading.

    Unlike what @GeoEng51 said, the title is almost always the last part of the note that I write. If I have to leave the note unfinished and return to it later, I will leave it untitled until I think it is finished. The lack of a title is an effective cue for me that the note is unfinished.

  • @GeoEng51 @Andy Thanks both.

    I like the "lack of title" approach as a reminder. However, I'd prefer to use it with reference notes rather than my thoughts.

    The digital system used for note-making is probably the main reason to use one workflow or another. A progressive approach while building your note seems rational but depends on the type of notes you take.

    1 fleeting sentence
    2 elaborated introduction + further children paragraphs
    3 elaborated single paragraph
    4 hub or cluster note
    x etc, etc.

    I use 1, 2 and 3 recurrently but (unfortunately?) not persistently according to a note purpose.

    David Delgado Vendrell

  • What I do is highly sensitive to the context. Here are some examples:

    • I write ToDos related to the writing project I am working on directly into the draft. (syntax = "- [ ]")
    • I write research related ToDos directly on the notes in my Zettelkasten if it is directly connected to expand and/or deepen the content of the note.
    • If I have a idea I like I create a proper note in my Zettelkasten and unpack it to a degree that I can pick up where I left.
    • All kinds of ideas related to The Archive go to a shared folder with Christian.

    All my decisions aim to design a future context. I never want to have a list of research questions and ideas because I am never in the situation of wanting to research something but don't know what to research. But if I stumble over an interesting note that is relevant to the current context I'd like to have already existing ideas on how to expand.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited June 2023

    Behavior--the word brings to mind unruly children, patronizing notifications to employees pinned to a corkboard by the manager of an oppressive, low-wage, benefit-free workplace, and the presumptuous self-important superior talking down to adult underlings. Since I don't have children and I don't have anyone to talk down to, the misbehavior is my own: the obdurate failure to write in longhand before using the computer. This shows up in anything requiring sustained thought--a proclivity is to resist taking notes on paper.

    [Alexander Grothendieck] improvised in his fast and elegant handwriting. He said that he couldn't think without writing. I would find it more convenient to close my eyes and think or lie down, but he could not think this way. He had to take a sheet of paper and he started writing. He wrote X → S, passing the pen several times on it, you see, until the characters and arrow became very thick. He somehow enjoyed the sight of these objects.
    – Illusie, Luc. (2007, January 30). Reminiscences of Grothendieck and his School (S. Bloch & V. Drinfled, Interviewers) [revised by Grammarly :trollface:]

    "If you're thinking without writing, you only think you're thinking."
    – Leslie Lamport.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0. Problems worthy of attack / prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • @ZettelDistraction Haha! I love the Leslie Lamport quote; sent it on to my author daughter. With about 30 successful books under her belt, I'm sure she'll find it wryly amusing.

  • edited June 2023

    @GeoEng51 Writing notes and indications helps to a point--copying out a textbook is inefficient and beyond diminishing returns, unless you are the author drafting your own textbook. If it isn't possible to think without writing, what were people doing in lieu of thinking before writing was invented? Still, for the kind of thinking Lamport suggests, he's right.

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0. Problems worthy of attack / prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

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